‘What to wear in Thailand’ is answered with 2 quick questions. What’s appropriate in a modest country? And, what clothes suit Thailand’s hot, humid climate? It’s easy! Find out why Thailand’s dress code is no problem.
What to know about Thailand’s dress code
Bar girls and lady-boys aside, Thailand is a modest country –
Think a PG-13 corner of Utah on a very hot day.
There are no actual rules; Thailand is used to under-dressed foreigners. However, dressing ‘more covered than not’ will be appreciated. Choose clothes that hit closer to your knees than anatomy in the opposite direction. Consider this more/less bendy, depending on your destination:
- Snorkelling in Samui? Don’t worry about it.
- Browsing Bangkok’s malls? You’re in tropical Manhattan.
- Hiking with hill tribes? Cover up.
FABRIC TO WEAR IN THAILAND’S CLIMATE?
You’re not coming on vacation to play “sweaty bush pig”, are you?
The climate determines what you should wear in Thailand – a fine line between respecting local culture, and not melting to a puddle. Despite Thailand’s typical temperatures – mid 30s (over 90°F) – and high humidity, your fabric choices can win the game.
- Silk packs light and keeps you cool.
- Cotton – the thinner the better! When packing for Thailand, only invite your 100% cotton buddies. Light-weight linen is equally comfortable (if you’ve asked yourself if you can really pull off linen pants).
- Wicking material used in ‘performance wear’ dries instantly – so you’re never stuck as a soggy puddle. Check the tags before it earns a place in your suitcase as you’ll cook in polyester.
What should men and women wear in Thailand?
WHAT SHOULD WOMEN WEAR?
Always wear your bikini top. Topless sunbathing is a total taboo. No one’s going to lock you up, but it will make locals nearby very uncomfortable. As you’ll see in the photo below, Thai women (bar girls notwithstanding) don’t really ‘do’ cleavage.
WHAT SHOULD MEN WEAR?
Guys have it easy: your T-shirts and standard-issue ‘man shorts‘ mean your modesty never need be a problem (just put your shirt back on when you leave the beach).
What to wear where?
ARRIVING AT THE AIRPORT
Don’t fly to Thailand in your vacation clothes – you’ll freeze before you’re halfway there. Instead, leave home wearing layers so you can adjust accordingly.
Pack an outfit-change for arrival: BAGGU zipper pouches – If you have a direct connection from Bangkok to elsewhere in Thailand, pack a change of summer clothes in your carry-on. These Baggu pouches make it easy to find your things (whether you have a big bag or are in a tiny bathroom stall).
Checking out of a 5-star Bangkok hotel once, one of us (ahem) was wearing a pair of Crocs. After settling the bill, the receptionist, as charming as can be, said her goodbyes:
You’re a very nice man. But you have such ugly shoes?
Assuming you’re an upstanding citizen with noble intentions, consider Bangkok the shiny metropolitan city that it is (and dress accordingly).
- Men: Collared shirts or polos are recommended (instead of T-shirts or – Australia! – singlets) and … apparently not Crocs. Choose loafers or boat shoes over flip-flops or running shoes (stand back and watch service levels improve).
- Women: Conjure Reese Witherspoon on an August day in Georgia rather than a skin-baring solution.
AT THE BEACH AND POOL
Bikinis, trunks and typical resort-wear are de facto at the beach and pool (as in any other popular vacation destination). Stepping off the beach for lunch? Just pop a cover-up or some shorts and a T-shirt on. Amazon’s Women’s Swim Shop has a great variety of options, including rash-guards if you plan to snorkel or burn easily.
OFF THE BEACH (IN BEACH TOWNS) / OUT & ABOUT
To dress properly in Thailand is no great mystery – just a matter of basic observation and respect. Do Thai men go to the supermarket shirtless and barefoot? No. Do Thai women ride scooters in bikinis? Nope. It’s just like at home: beach stuff stays on the beach.
Pay particular attention to the dress code for Thai temples as it’s where you’re most likely to cause offence.
- Clothes: Cover your shoulders & knees (both sexes) by wearing longer shorts, capris, pants or a long skirt and any shirt that fully covers your shoulders (women might instead use a pashmina/wrap).
- Shoes: Closed-toe shoes are more appropriate, whether loafers, flats or canvas TOMs.
What not to wear in Thailand
- Anything polyester. It will melt and so will you.
- Jeans. Thais can wear jeans thanks to lifetime of heat-acclimation. You? You’ll combust.
- Shoes and socks. Shoes are taken off outside homes and many shops. Tying and untying shoe laces? No thanks. Flip-flops do the trick. (Or dressier sandals/deck shoes for cities).
SONGKRAN (THE WATER FESTIVAL)
Will you be in Thailand mid-April? If so – perhaps avoid white clothes on Songkran…
WHAT TO WEAR IN THAILAND’S RAINY SEASON?
In rainy season there are cooler days (never cold, just “less hot”) and a cardigan, sweater or light wind breaker might be good – particularly at night. (Get a rainy season-specific packing list).